How bad is a heroin addiction? Heroin is an opioid, and The Huffington Post states, “over the past two-year period [2015-2017] more Americans died of opiate addiction than died in the entire Vietnam War.”
In 2015, 591,000 people suffered from heroin addiction, according to the American Society Of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Unfortunately, very few people who struggle with addiction will ever seek treatment.
Yet heroin addiction is treatable, and more methods prove effective at helping people overcome abuse of heroin all the time. When you know what heroin is, the side effects of abuse, and the signs of addiction, you’re better equipped to make the journey to enter treatment.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an illicit form of an opioid drug, derived from morphine, another opioid. It can appear as a white powder, or a black or brown sticky substance called black tar heroin.
When abused, heroin is snorted, smoked or injected as a solution. Heroin is also sometimes mixed with other drugs for enhanced effects. When mixed with cocaine, it’s called a speedball.
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The drug works by quickly entering your brain and binding to opioid receptors. This changes your perception of pain and response to pleasure. It also affects, almost immediately, heart rate, breathing and sleeping.
Heroin has the effect of slowing bodily functions, such as breathing and heart rates. When mixed with stimulant drugs like cocaine, which increase these rates, the combined effect can be dangerous, even fatal.
Yet heroin is a dangerous drug to abuse on its own, and many who begin abusing it first abused prescription opioids. Many opioid prescription drugs have effects similar to those of heroin, and when people become addicted to them and no longer have access to prescriptions, they may go looking for an alternative. Heroin is less expensive, easily obtained, and often viewed as an alternative to opioid prescriptions.
Who Abuses Heroin?
Heroin doesn’t discriminate; it affects many people from all different walks of life. In 2015 alone, 21,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to past-year use of heroin. In the same year, approximately 5,000 adolescents were currently abusing heroin.
Again, many people begin use of heroin because they first began abusing prescription opioids. In fact, four out of five people abusing heroin first abused prescription opioids. Of those suffering from opioid addiction, women tend to be affected more than men.
Though heroin can affect anyone, especially those seeking it as a replacement for other opioids, it tends to mostly affect those ages 18 to 25, especially people in this age group living in urban areas. The ASAM reports that an estimated 23 percent of people who abuse heroin will develop an addiction to it.
Signs Of A Heroin Addiction
It’s not easy to admit that you’re addicted to heroin, or that someone you love may be abusing the drug. Yet recognizing the signs, and seeking help as soon as possible, can make a difference in your life—the difference between being caught in a vicious cycle of addiction and finding the hope in healing you deserve.
The following are signs of heroin addiction:
- Change in pupils (“pinpoint pupils”)
- Chronic constipation
- Extreme sensitivity to pain
- Heightened euphoria or extreme discontent
- Reduced sex drive
- Severe cravings for/uncontrollable urges to seek the drug
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
Other general signs of addiction include hiding things/secrecy, loss of control, increased risk-taking, doing things one normally wouldn’t obtain the drug, lack of interest in things that used to interest you and distancing yourself from others due to shame or guilt.
Side Effects Of Heroin Abuse
The most immediate side effects of heroin include a “rush,” during which you experience a feeling of euphoria and well-being, followed by a “high,” or extended period of pleasurable effects. With these effects may come some adverse side effects, though.
The short-term effects of heroin include:
- Clouded mental functioning
- Dry mouth
- Flushed skin
- Heaviness in the arms and legs
- Nausea or vomiting
- Severe itching
- Severely slowed breathing
After the initial rush, you may feel the drowsiness and clouded mental functioning and have severely slowed breathing for several hours. It’s the slowed breathing that is particularly dangerous. The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that extremely slowed breathing can be life-threatening, and “can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage.”
What Happens If You Don’t Get Help?
Left untreated, heroin addiction can affect your health, personal relationships, job, school performance, social involvement and so much more. As for the long-term effects, the NIDA states, “repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed.”
In addition, the brain’s white matter can be affected by heroin abuse. This means that you’ll see changes to your decision-making abilities, behavior, and responses to situations of high stress.
Addiction to heroin also produces tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance occurs when you no longer feel the effects of the drug when you take it. As you might guess, this is dangerous as you may take more of the drug, trying to feel the effects of it, which can contribute to overdose.
Withdrawal happens when you have formed a physical dependence on the drug, and experience adverse symptoms when not taking it, or when you don’t have access to it. Because of tolerance, withdrawal can happen sooner and sooner each time you abuse the drug.
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Cold flashes/goosebumps
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Uncontrollable leg movements
If all the physical ailments weren’t detrimental enough, heroin addiction can also infect your life until you no longer feel that it’s your own. Likely, people close to you won’t be happy about your addiction, and this can cause rifts in relationships. While heroin is relatively inexpensive, addiction can take a toll on the finances, especially if you slip in performance at work and lose your job due to drug use.
Heroin addiction can also drive people to criminal behavior, usually to obtain the drug or to engage in risky sexual acts, which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases. Sharing of needles or use of unclean needles contribute to the spread of infectious disease, including HIV/AIDS.
What Are The Signs Of A Heroin Overdose?
A heroin overdose occurs when there is an excess of the drug in the body, whether all at once or built up over time. The NIDA reports that the United States has seen an increase in heroin overdoses in recent years.
Overdose from heroin usually occurs with dangerously slowed breathing, which can cause decreases to the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This condition is known as hypoxia.
Because decreased oxygen to the brain can cause both short- and long-term effects to the brain and nervous system, it’s important to recognize the signs of overdose as soon as possible and to seek help right away.
Signs of a heroin overdose include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Delirium or disorientation
- Discoloration of tongue
- Discoloration of nails (blue or purple)
- Dry mouth
- Muscle spasms
- Reduced pupil size (pinpoint pupils)
- Stomach or intestinal spasms
- Stopped breathing, shallow breathing, or slow and difficult breathing
- Weak pulse
- In extreme cases, coma
Treatment For Heroin Abuse And Addiction
In light of all the calamity heroin can create, it may come as no surprise that treatment for heroin addiction has to be comprehensive, and may involve a number of methods.
At Vertava Health, we recognize that heroin equally affects the mind and body, extending to every aspect of health and life. This includes emotions, behaviors and thought processes as well as your physical and mental well-being. That’s why we strive to provide customized, individual programs that best fit each person in treatment.
Our rehab centers ensure mental well-being by providing excellent care for dual diagnoses, or those struggling with more than one substance use disorder or a mental health condition as well as addiction. We also help you work through trauma, constricting thoughts and emotions with both group and individual counseling.
You’ll also learn to rebuild or gain confidence and change adverse thoughts through psychosocial therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Motivational Interviewing. Learning the skills to fight these afflicting thoughts before they turn into negative behaviors is key to succeeding in recovery and preventing relapse.
Many of our facilities are located in serene, peaceful settings that offer comforts and luxuries. Why is this important to treatment? Right now, you may be surrounded by your environment of abuse. Getting away and focusing on treatment alone gives you a greater chance of beating addiction and building a fulfilling life. It’s easiest to focus on treatment if you are surrounded by comfort and feel at peace in healing.
If you need detoxification, we offer medically supervised services that help you stay focused, manage pain and withdrawal and regulate important breathing and heart functions. Should you need medication, you’ll have access to it to help manage withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted therapy is used in combination with other therapies to give you a holistic healing experience.
We also provide unique, evidence-based, alternative forms of healing, including adventure and wilderness therapy. Learning to survive, and indeed thrive, in the wilderness not only builds your skill set but also improves your self-confidence and sense of fulfillment. Adventure therapy allows you to experience fulfilling activities, improve skills and work on your sense of self.
Whatever rehab center you choose, you should be sure that it will allow you to heal in the way that you need and that it addresses your individual treatment needs. Vertava Health can put you in touch with some of the best rehab centers that will do just that.
Where Can I Find Treatment?
Have you been struggling with heroin addiction, and looking for a way out? We want to help you get your life back, or even build a new one where addiction is left behind.
Contact us today to learn more about heroin addiction and the best treatment for you. Your call will be completely confidential. Contact us at Vertava Health, or by calling 888-966-8973.